Monday, September 23, 2013


Here's how the pattern goes:  Elton releases a new one, it has some echoes of the past, and there seems to be a bit of interest, certain reviews claim its his best since, what, Yellow Brick Road, or compare it to Tumbleweed Connection, a few others say its fine but there's no hit singles, and it disappears.  Elton does a bit of press, but then hits the road with the same old That 70's Show tour.  It's been that way for 20 years now.

But something felt better about his last album, The Union, with his old hero, Leon Russell.  It had a maturity to it, and seemed to grab Elton's interest a bit more than in the past.  I guess you could say it felt like he was hungrier.  It's been a long time since he put out a true clunker, and you can't say the guy's ever been lazy, but he's old school too.  You write, you record, you tour, you live with it.  This one feels like he tried harder, and worked longer.  It's been pushed back several times, and was originally supposed to come out over a year ago.  New songs have been written, others dropped, and a theme emerged to John, that of a real piano album.

Aiding in that was producer T Bone Burnett, returning from The Union sessions.  Burnett suggested a return to the old Elton John Band days, with just piano, bass and drums, and aside from a few deviations, that's pretty much what this album is.  I don't think there's ever been an album of his with so much piano.  Each song has a mellow melody, John's keys up front, instrumental passages connecting verses and choruses.  Long-time lyricist Bernie Taupin contributes some of his strongest lyrics in years, largely a set of reminiscences, typified by Home Again.  That key ballad is filled with the sadness of someone who realizes all of life's searching brought little except the desire for comfort found in the familiar.  More memories can be found in Oceans Away, of ones they left behind, trees in winter, old grey lions, the stuff of age.  The title cut again looks back in time, when the singer was 16.

In response to the words, the usual way John writes, it's a low-key album, with no big choruses, no I'm Still Standing bravado, and yes, no hit singles.  But that's perfectly within rights and reasonable expectations;  he's a singer with a piano here, a tear and a beer, not chasing Top 10 dreams anymore.  He's making music he can be proud of.  It takes a listen or two to come around to the blue piano theme of the album, but once you settle in, you'll find a different Elton John to enjoy, and we still have all the 70's music to enjoy anyway.

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